Governor’s anti-crime special session extended due to snag in House

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s special session on violent crime could now last until September. This extended calendar comes after representatives announced they want to separate each of the governor’s provisions into their own bills.

Lawmakers in both the Missouri Senate and House thought the special session would last until the end of this week or early next week; now they are expecting to be here for a least another two weeks.

Gov. Parson added a new provision to the session earlier this week, wanting Attorney General Eric Schmitt to prosecute homicides in St. Louis.

“I want to be clear, this is not about taking away authority, it is about fighting violent crime,” Parson said. “The circuit attorney still has full and fair opportunity to prosecute murderers. The proposal does not allow the attorney general to supervise or replace the circuit attorney. The attorney general will be able to prosecute cases only if 90 or more days have passed since a filing since the murder was committed, the chief law enforcement officer makes the request of the attorney general, and the circuit attorney has not yet filed charges.”

Before Parson made his announcement about the expansion, the Senate passed SB 1 on Friday with a 27-3 vote, but not before a lengthy 12-hour debate Thursday night. After the Senate passed the bill, it hit a snag in the House.

Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield), Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann (R-St. Charles), and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) released a statement Tuesday night about the House taking a step back to make the proposed legislation better.

“In an effort to protect the integrity of the lawmaking process, and to ensure these important issues are thoroughly vetted, we intend to simplify the process with single-subject bills so we can focus on the merits of each bill individually to produce legislation that makes our streets and neighborhoods safer. Given the fact the governor expanded the call as one of our committees was considering the bill he originally proposed, we think it’s important to take a step back and give additional thought and attention to each part of the plan. This will provide a more deliberative process that will allow us to craft the kind of policy that will better protect Missourians from the scourge of violent crime.”

Statement from Haahr, Wiemann, and Vescovo

Schmitt told FOX 2 Missouri Capitol Bureau reporter Emily Manley he was not surprised that the governor asked him to step in and help prosecute cases in St. Louis.

“This is not about personalities. It shouldn’t be about politics at all. It’s about public safety and victims,” Schmitt said. “I mean, there are communities that are being terrorized right now and communities that don’t feel safe. This is not addressed in a meaningful way. There’s a human toll and there’s a toll that relates to businesses wanting to be in the St. Louis metro area.”

Schmitt said St. Louis residences should look at it like the state is lending its lawyer to help the circuit attorney’s office.

State Sen. Tony Luetkeymeyer said the Senate was unaware the House was going to break up each provision as a separate bill.

“When the House indicated what it wants to do now, is rather than have a single bill with multiple components in it all related to public safety, they want to have multiple separate bills where each of them is considered separately,” Luetkemeyer said.

He expects this new approach could make session last for another three weeks.

“My expectation is that the Senate will likely be doing of its work the first and second week of September before we actually are able to get a bill to the governor’s desk,” Luetkemeyer said.

Luetkemeyer said he is in favor of the governor’s new provision because St. Louis has one of the lowest conviction rates in the country.

“I think the families in the St. Louis area deserve justice allowing the AG to provide additional resources and well hopefully remove more mirderers from the streets and ultimately make our state’s largest city safer,” Luetkemeyer said. “She still has the opportunity whenever she is approached with a probably cause statement from the St. Louis Police Department to file charges in those cases and it’s only after she refuses to do so, after the apse of 90 days, the attorney general can come in.

He does think it’s going to cause another lengthy and headed debate.

“I’ve been following some of my Democratic colleagues on Twitter and they’ve made no bones about it but this is a provison they intend to vigorously oppose,” Luetkemeyer said. “People are very sensitive to the issues of the attorney general having any type of shared jurisdiction in the City of St. Louis.”

Some Democrats feel the governor is just doing this to help his own campaign.

“I can tell you for me with us being here today dealing with this ‘violent crime’ with a bill that does nothing to prevent violent crime, is that a year ago when we asked for this when the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus and the House Democrats asked for a special session to deal with the violent crime, the governor said he needed to stay in his lane,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quad, D-Springfield, said. “here we are with thousands of Missourians dying and that’s when he decides it’s in his land. I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable, this is election rhetoric and all it is, is a distraction.”

Lawmakers aren’t expected to return to the Capitol until next week. Luetkemeyer said the bill containing concurrent jurisdiction is still being discussed on whether it will start in the House or the Senate.

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